Gun safety advocates, law enforcement at odds on firearm-relinquishment bill
Sheriff’s offices share concern about constitutionality, practicality of reforms
Members of Moms Demand Action, lobbying at the Capitol in 2020 for gun control legislation, may be emboldened by results of the 2022 Kansas Speaks survey showing 73.8% support background checks on private gun sales and at gun shows, and 75,3% want to block firearm sales to people convicted of violent misdemeanors. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Law enforcement officers and organizations Wednesday objected to legislation placing county sheriffs in the vanguard of forcing Kansans to relinquish all firearms and concealed carry licenses if convicted of domestic violence or subject to a protection from abuse order.
Objections included Senate Bill 192’s potential conflict with a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the practical implications of law enforcement agencies seizing and storing truckloads of firearms, procedural challenges to processing a new wave of court orders and the potential of escalating on-the-job dangers faced by law enforcement officers.
Three Democratic state legislators and representatives of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America recommended the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee pass the legislation to broaden the state’s response to the plague of domestic violence. Proponents and some opponents of the bill expressed an interest in working on a compromise. The committee took no action on the bill.
Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter, speaking on behalf of the Kansas Sheriffs’ Association, said the Senate bill went beyond the scope of constitutional precedent. He said the measure would violate the unanimous 2014 ruling by the Supreme Court in Henderson v. United States.
“We do not believe the sheriff, or any law enforcement authority, can just hold someone’s gun for indefinite amount of time or sell a firearm that is someone else’s property,” Easter said.
Under current Kansas law, a person under a protection order or convicted of domestic violence cannot possess a firearm. However, existing statute doesn’t require individuals to turn in guns they own to law enforcement or to dispose of those weapons in other ways.
Leanna Barclay, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, said statistics on domestic violence made clear the threat of abusers turning to lethal force.
“A woman who is in a domestic violence situation is five times more likely to die when a gun is present,” Barclay said. “In fact, 70% of all women killed by an intimate partner in Kansas, were killed with a gun.”
Lindsie Ford, an attorney with the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said there had been 17 homicides in Kansas related to domestic violence in 2022. Ten of these deaths involved firearms, she said.
“Passage of this bill would help to save lives,” she said. “Intimate-partner homicides remain an all too common problem in Kansas. This bill will allow for the removal of firearms from situations that have been proven to put victims of domestic violence at significant risk of being murdered.”
Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes said existing Kansas law led to a collection of local protocols, but no universal structure in state statute. She said the result was “confusion in our communities, inconsistent application of the law, and in some cases, grievous consequences for victims of domestic violence.”
The bill sponsored by eight Senate Democrats would require a court to issue an order mandating a defendant relinquish firearms and concealed gun licenses. If present in court, the defendant would have 24 hours to surrender weapons. If not present, a law enforcement officer would serve an order on the defendant in an effort to secure the firearms. The weapons would be placed in storage until relevant court orders expired.
Violation of the proposed firearm prohibition would be a felony in Kansas. A background check would be conducted on the individual prior to returning firearms or licenses.
Greg Smith, a special deputy sheriff in Johnson County, said there was no denying the “terrible, tragic outcomes” of some domestic violence cases. He said comparable bills had been introduced in the Legislature in the past and concerns raised about inappropriate implications of those reforms, but recommendations by law enforcement officials for altering text of those bills had fallen on deaf ears.
“We appreciate the passion of those who are advocating for the bill, and we support the intent of protecting victims of domestic violence from further abuse or harm. We do not see this bill as a tool that will do that,” Smith said.
Ed Klumpp, representative of two Kansas law enforcement organizations and a former Topeka police chief, said he was concerned the bill would require a person to relinquish firearms that hadn’t been used in a crime and prohibit the owner from transferring firearms to another person who may lawfully possess it.
Klumpp said the Senate legislation wouldn’t prevent defendants in a protection order or domestic violence case from illegally possessing firearms. Proponents of the bill may have unrealistic expectations regarding safety of family members based on the bill, he said.
“In reality, a person who has their firearms confiscated under this bill who intends to cause harm to the victim or their family will find ways to obtain yet another firearm or simply to use another weapon,” he said.
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